Band of brothers

For Kevin and Michael Bacon, making music runs in the family

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Michael Bacon detected singing potential in his younger brother Kevin when he was just a little boy.

"I had a plan to make him the next Michael Jackson," says the elder Bacon. "Luckily that didn't work out."

Luckily, indeed. Kevin Bacon did enjoy a brief bout of music-related superstardom in the 1984 dance-happy flick Footloose. But what made the movie work was his acting ability, a mix of intensity and raffish charm that has made him a uniquely appealing screen presence for more than two decades.

Now 47, he has grown into a famously versatile actor, one whose taste runs to much darker material. He recently played a child molester in The Woodsman and a debauched comic in Where The Truth Lies, and in his feature-film directing debut, Loverboy with wife Kyra Sedgwick, he delves into obsessive maternal love.

But even now, when he's the very definition of a household name, six degrees and all, he still nurtures a dream of making it big as a musician. Ask him what he'd like more, an Oscar or a hit record, and his first, instinctive answer is, "A hit record."

"Good answer," his brother chimes in during a conference call from New York.

Kevin and Michael have been performing as The Bacon Brothers for more than 10 years, writing and recording songs for their own Forosoco (short for "Folk Rock Soul Country") label. Their fourth album, White Knuckles, is out this month.

"People are just resistant to the idea of an actor playing music," Michael says. "Even I do the eye-rolling — 'Can't wait to hear this' — which is terrible, especially since it's something I'm attempting here myself."

But he's got the chops: raspy pipes as distinctive as his speaking voice, and skills in percussion, guitar and harmonica. His brother, nine years his senior, makes music full time. A singer/guitarist whose vocal style recalls James Taylor, he's also a composer of movie and TV soundtracks.

Music and theater ran in the Bacon family, which included father Edmund, a city planner who played a major role in the development of modern Philadelphia; mother Ruth, a civic activist; and six siblings, of whom Kevin was the youngest.

When he was 6, Kevin dreamed up a playlet called "The Gubbiewatts," which his father staged for the family in a miniature toy theater. Michael has fond memories of gatherings in the Bacons' Adirondacks getaway, listening to his sister and a cousin sing Everly Brothers songs a cappella.

But The Bacon Brothers' music-making is far from casual. "People ask, 'Do you guys get together and jam?'" says Kevin. "I don't really know how to jam. It's fun to mix it up a little in different formats, but it's never really 'Let's just strap on the guitars!'"

The attitude is reminiscent of his approach to movie acting. He doesn't like directors who talk a lot on set; he comes ready to go, having done his research (for instance, at 23 he went undercover as a high school student in Utah to prepare for Footloose). "I always felt the most frustrating thing about being an actor was seeing things stuck for no reason," he says. "I don't like to see time and money wasted."

Ed Bacon died in October at the age of 95. The brothers' songs on White Knuckles reflect this awareness of transition. "Old man can't seem to sleep past dawn/ Wakes up to find his sand castles all have gone," goes one lyric. Other songs touch on parenting and the fears of middle age.

But the boys can still kick up their heels. "Good News" takes some sardonic shots at the Hollywood publicity machine: "I'm in the morning zoo/ I've got those pads on my knees/ We play another round of six degrees/ wasn't that fun." "Peace Dance" recalls the jaunty propulsiveness of Kenny Loggins' title song for you-know-what.

And the family ties that bind Michael and Kevin Bacon seem as strong as ever. Even though Kevin's voice is considerably lower than it was when Michael saw him as a potential pop star, Michael's still sure of one thing:

"He blew Jackson away. No contest."

Sarasota Film Festival Benefit: Nov. 16, 6 p.m., Loverboy, Regal Hollywood 20; Kevin Bacon career achievement presentation, Longboat Key Club, 941-364-9514.

Bacon Brothers: Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Nov. 17, 8 p.m., 813-229-7827; Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Nov. 18, 8 p.m., 800-826-9303.

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